Traceability is Key in the Quest for Food Safety & Security

With new government regulations, pressure from retailers and increasing consumer concern, food manufacturers have little choice but to remain vigilant on the topics of food safety and security. A plant's ability to track and contain possible contamination has become just as vital as its ability to prevent it.

With new government regulations, pressure from retailers and increasing consumer concern, food manufacturers have little choice but to remain vigilant on the topics of food safety and security. A plant's ability to track and contain possible contamination has become just as vital as its ability to prevent it.

"While prevention is their first concern, food manufacturers need to know how quickly they can put a fence around potential recalls," Scot McLeod, Vice President of Marketing at Ross Systems, said.

More and more food manufacturers are expressing the need for precise, efficient tracking and tracing capabilities.

Surprisingly, it's not the government putting the most pressure on food manufacturers. Instead, the push for traceability is coming from large retailers and insurance carriers, both of whom have stock in a food manufacturer's ability to locate and recall unsafe products.

Large retailers and insurance carriers often insist on food safety audits, including on-site inspections and mock recalls.

Safety audits have become protocol for many food manufacturers. Large retailers do not hesitate to send their own inspection teams out to plants and insurance companies often base their rates on their own risk analysis.

Manufacturers increasingly are turning to specialized software systems to streamline the process. A recall that in the past would have taken a few days to complete, now can be done in just a few hours. These systems provide food manufacturers with the trace-back ability to pinpoint the exact source of food contamination.

Many companies, such as Premium Brands, a specialty meat company with plants throughout the Pacific Northwest and western Canada, have taken it a step further and established their own recall teams. Premium Brands runs its own mock recalls four times a year in each of its seven plants.

The company has been working with Ross Systems since November 1999 to centralize its traceability systems. In the event of a recall, they have the ability to locate all relevant contact information within 20 minutes, and to pinpoint the specific lot (rather than entire days worth of products) that needs to be examined.

John Christiaens, director of information technology at Premium Brands, stresses that implementing systems for traceability in a food manufacturing plant is an ongoing process, "These systems are merely building blocks we have put into place."

This sentiment also is shared by software manufacturers as well. Paul Moylan of Rockwell Automation believes that traceability options available should be considered "solutions" rather than simple "products." Moylan is the process solution business and food vertical marketing manager for Rockwell Automation.

"Most manufacturers are not homogenous in the equipment they use. There is no one single tracking and genealogy product," Moylan said.

Traceability is an ongoing process. But failure to prove traceability can mean loss of business on a large scale. With retailers sometimes demanding specific information on each pallet delivered, a company that can't produce this information may simply be eliminated as a supplier.

With the emphasis on traceability--the desire to meet government regulations and meet stipulations of retailers and insurance carriers--comes a greater overall improvement for food manufacturers. It also opens up doors for future development.

"The savvy food manufacturer is looking beyond traceability to continue to improve operations," says Charley Rastle, marketing manager and food strategic/solution marketing manager at Rockwell Automation.

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